Old Friendships Die Hard. Right?
In the latest chapter of history’s oldest transatlantic relationship, the United Kingdom and United States have found themselves on strikingly similar trajectories. The underlying currents of domestic politics in Western liberal democracies are most prominently on display in these two traditionally-friendly powerhouses, as the presidency of Donald Trump and Theresa May’s ongoing negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union have evoked considerable ire and awe for both nations. It is undeniable that these two leaders are now the faces of deviation from traditional international politics – and no less for the rising tides of nationalism and nativism. The question remains, however: how has the convergent evolution of American and British foreign policy manifested in their diplomatic interactions with one another? One might believe it obvious that this ideological agreement would spur on cooperation to advance common goals, but it is never quite so simple.
The Trump administration has assumed a unique position of ambivalence toward the British establishment in the midst of Brexit negotiations. Trump himself has repeatedly expressed support for Brexit for its message of “[standing] up for their nation” against international control. It is no surprise that the President would back an initiative whose support draws from a base in another nation largely analogous to his in the states. What is different, however, is how he has displayed that support. Mr. Trump has, throughout his term, heavily criticized Ms. May’s conduct of the negotiations as insincere to the voters and displayed considerable support for Ms. May’s domestic adversaries, fellow Tory Boris Johnson and UKIP’s Nigel Farage. It’s an unconventional tactic of alignment, holding fast to Mr. Trump’s dogma for “staying on message” rather than “playing the game.” Contrast the tactic to French President Emmanuel Macron, who, despite vastly different politics, attempted to develop a relationship with Mr. Trump when many other leaders did not. American foreign policy may be taking new turns, but some results have already come to the fore.
Recent international summits attended by both leaders indicate how May views the current state of American politics.
If one wants an idea of the view from Britain looking toward here, search no further than the international meetings at which both May and Trump have been present. Theresa May has been steadfastly diplomatic concerning her relationship with the President, even in the wake of his controversial state visit to the UK, during which he suggested that Johnson might make a better Prime Minister for the UK. Above the silence, however, her actions speak volumes. The June G7 summit quickly became “G6 +1” when May sided with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the growing international Tariff dispute. This is a move that earned May considerable credit with allies who are also frustrated with the current state of American affairs and likely recovered some of the faith lost throughout the Brexit process. Moreover, as Theresa May continues to indicate that Russian Antagonism is a key issue for her administration, one wonders if Mr. Trump’s coziness to Vladimir Putin will eventually reach a breaking point.
Whatever the reason, it does seem with every passing summit that the US and UK drift further apart. It is a curious evolution for two nations who seem to both be trending in similar directions. Only time will tell if these happenings are masterful statecraft or steps toward paralyzing isolation.